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Column: Lady Vols Need a New Direction

(Photo via Knoxville News Sentinel)

I want to preface this by saying that I know I’ve not talked a lot about the Lady Vols on here. Rocky Top Insider doesn’t have an extensive coverage of the Lady Vols, but I do my best to keep up with them and their overall performance. I have written about them before, however, and I’ve talked about Holly Warlick, the Lady Vols’ head coach, before.

And now I think it’s time that the Lady Vols move on from their embattled head coach.

Whether it’s via firing or her stepping down, I believe it’s time for a change at leadership with the Lady Vols. Warlick is a great person and has contributed a great deal to the university. She played under Pat Summitt from 1976-80 and coached as an assistant for Summitt from 1985-2012. Once Summitt stepped down, Warlick was the obvious choice as successor. She proved to be a quality assistant coach under Summitt, and it seemed only fitting she should take over the reigns.

But Warlick hasn’t proven herself as a head coach in her six years at the helm of the Lady Vols.

Granted, the Lady Vols were on a bit of a decline before Warlick took over prior to the 2012-13 season. The game of women’s basketball was starting to expand, and Tennessee and UConn were no longer the only two super powers. Teams like Baylor, Stanford, Notre Dame, North Carolina, South Carolina, Mississippi State, and others had made tremendous strides and had upped the competition. The Lady Vols hadn’t made it further than the Elite Eight under Summitt since their last title in 2008.

Warlick was tasked with a nearly impossible mission; following a legend. Not only that, but she had to follow in Pat’s footsteps after the game had begun to evolve and grow. At first, it seemed like she had what it took to keep Tennessee on track, making it to the Elite Eight in her first season and again in two of the next three years.

But as time wore on, things began to unravel.

The Lady Vols have accomplished a numerous amount of undesirable “firsts” under Holly Warlick. Tennessee had never finished worse than fifth in the SEC under Summitt. They finished fifth in 2015-16 under Warlick and have finished seventh in the conference in back-to-back seasons. The Lady Vols had never failed to make the Sweet Sixteen in consecutive seasons until this year’s team got eliminated in the second round just like last season. Tennessee had never lost at home in the NCAAW Tournament in 57 previous games until this year when they dropped to 57-1 after losing 66-59 to Oregon State.

Those aren’t all the “firsts,” though.

Tennessee dropped out of the top 25 of the AP Poll for the first time since 1985 back in 2016 after falling to 16-11 overall. The Lady Vols had never lost more than five conference games in a season or more than 11 total games in a whole season before Warlick’s 2015-16 squad went 8-8 in SEC play and 22-14 overall. The Lady Vols earned their lowest NCAAW bid in program history that season too, getting a No. 7 seed.

After averaging 28.7 wins per season in her first three years, Warlick has averaged just 22.3 wins the last three seasons. Women’s basketball has gotten a lot more competitive since Warlick took over as head coach, and that’s especially true in the SEC. But she’s failed to grow and adjust to the game, and it’s cost her and her team.

Warlick hasn’t failed spectacularly. She hasn’t bottomed out the same way Butch Jones did as head football coach for Tennessee. The Lady Vols are still making the tournament and still competing. But there’s no arguing she’s taken the program to new lows.

Last offseason bought her some time after she brought in the No. 1 recruiting class in the country. But it made little difference this season, as the Lady Vols finished in the same spot in the SEC and were bounced in the same round of the NCAAW Tournament as the previous season.

Right now, Warlick has one year remaining on her contract. But that contract doesn’t need to run its course.

As I said before, Holly is a great person. She’s given a lot to the university and the Knoxville community and beyond. But she hasn’t gotten the job done as a head coach.

The state of the Lady Vols isn’t dire. Warlick hasn’t left the program in shambles the same way Derek Dooley or Butch Jones did in football or the way Donnie Tyndall/UT’s administration did in basketball. If the move is made to cut ties with Holly Warlick this offseason, whoever takes over will have plenty to work with. There’s plenty of All-SEC talent on Tennessee’s roster.

Not only that, but Tennessee should be able to go get whomever they want to replace Warlick with a few exceptions. Geno Auriemma, for example, won’t come coach the Lady Vols. But just about everyone else is a viable candidate.

It’s time for the Lady Vols to change directions. The once-proud program has fallen to unheard of depths, and it’s time for a change.

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8 Responses

  1. Lady VOLS have lost at least 4 games in the later part of season due to poor coaching. Yes it is time for a change. Phil Fulmer AD said he would have some serious talks with ber after the season. Well !!!!

  2. Really? You state that she is a good coach, and MUCH MORE IMPORTANTLY, a good person. She supports the student athletes who play for her. She is passionate about her school, her team, and women’s basketball. If I had a daughter, I would want her to play for Holly Warlick.

  3. Following such a legend as Pat, is big shoes. But never really felt Holly was the obvious choice. Need another “my way or the highway” kind of coach. The bottom line has not been what is expected on Rocky Top. Pat has big shoes to fill…. thanks for your efforts Holly…..just not enough

  4. It’s about fundamentals. You play like you practice. It is obvious she does not know fundamentals. They do not stop a player from driving baseline, cardinal sin. They are not taught how to roll toward goal after setting screens. You do not dribble perimeter of zone when passes are fundamental. Why was a high and low pos t never played against zone? It is not rocket science , simple fundamentals that other teams are doing. Multiple turnovers are coached against in practice. The negatives never improved during the year. To many to mention. Program to good to continue this.

  5. This isn’t about throwing unfair criticism on the girls it about Holly Warrick since she have been the coach the program is going down hill because she can’t coach those girls to their potential and that not fair to those young ladies. It no way all American should be missing lay up, turning the ball over at the rate they are, not being able to finish games all that falls on the coaching staff. I truly understand that their freshman but that suppose to get better as the season goes not worst. Plus there are to be some consistent in their play. She is tearing down everything Pat builded no way what she let go Pat wound have let go sorry. To passionate

  6. I. Like Holly and her work is dependable the tournament and.ncaas..the elite 8 and final.4 is a tough.bunch to join.this year…recuriting has to change to make this jump…just like the men’s program.and Rick.Barnes.but.tournament teams are players and out state has to get better..rj

  7. Lol No.. Coaches like Pat Summitt, Geno Auriemma, John Wooden, Adolff Rupp don’t grow on trees ya know. Holly’s got one of the best records among active coaches. We just went 25-8.
    Summitt chose Warlick, and we are finishing in top 15 like every year. We are in the NCAA Tourney as one of the Top Seeds yearly Under Warlick.
    Warlick is one of the BEST recruiters, up there with Auriemma and Staley etc

    No one would do better than Holly. All this hot seat talk is utter nonsense. LadyVols will always be a top program and that’s not ever gonna change. But youre not gonna go out there and find some Summitt like coach, they aren’t growing on trees. Summitt chose Warlick. This is Warlick’s program.

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